Americans from all backgrounds are coming together to tell the BLM that its approach to wild horses must be overhauled.
This week, the National Academy of Sciences released a watershed new report concluding that the federal wild horse program is broken and badly in need of reform. Specifically, the independent panel was sharply critical of the costly and unsustainable cycle of roundups and stockpiling the BLM program is built around. It said, "continuing 'business as usual' will be expensive and unproductive for the BLM and the public it serves."
These are fighting words, and they echo what wild horse advocates have been saying for years. After two years of in-depth review, the scientific panel concluded that the BLM's wild horse roundups not only do not work, but also actually make the situation worse! By holding wild horse population levels down to unnaturally low levels and removing large numbers of mustangs from the range, the BLM is fueling high population growth rates. In essence, the agency is creating its own problem, and then sending taxpayers the bill. This year, that bill approaches $80 million.
Most importantly, the NAS confirmed that alternatives to the roundups are available, but the BLM is not using them.
This is a pivotal moment in the fight to save wild horses and burros in the West. Science is now firmly on the side of those who want the wild horses managed in the wild, not removed en masse from their homes on the range. With 50,000 wild horses in holding facilities and fewer than 32,000 in the wild, there is not a moment to wait to implement reform.
Unlike many reports that are released in Washington, this one actually provides a path forward toward reform, starting with the increased use of fertility control. The chair of the panel, Dr. Guy Palmer, said, "[fertility control] needs to be used in a consistent, widespread manner, which has not been done today." In fact, the BLM spends less than 4 percent of its budget on humane fertility control and other on-the-range management strategies, while nearly 70 percent is spent to roundup, remove and stockpile horses.
Now, all eyes are on the new Interior Secretary, Sally Jewell, to put the panel's recommendations into action. Last month, she told the Denver Post that she would be waiting for this report before making a determination on the future of the program. That time has come and the message is clear: reform is needed now.
Unfortunately, Jewell's task will be complicated by intransigence within the BLM itself. This attitude was on display this week when a BLM spokesman, Tom Gorey, responded to news reports on the NAS report by saying, "it appears that our critics want to use the report as a propaganda tool to stop [roundups]."
Really?! The BLM itself commissioned the NAS review and determined its study scope. The report was written by an independent team of scientists. Now the BLM is calling it propaganda?
It's not just advocates who interpret the report as a stinging rebuke to the BLM. Journalists too realized the far-ranging implications, as evidenced by headlines like:
One thing is certain: scientists and activists aren't the only ones who support reforming the program. Just this week, our campaign released poll results documenting that 66 percent of Americans think the BLM's approach to wild horse management is an inefficient use of tax dollars (only 8 percent thought it was an efficient use of tax dollars). Meanwhile, 72 percent of Americans want to see America's wild horses protected and preserved on the western range.
Meanwhile, an open letter is circulating on Capitol Hill and online demanding that Secretary Jewell act to reform the program. The "Step In, Sally" initiative has collected over 25,000 signatures from the public, celebrities -- such as Robert Redford, Carole King, Ali MacGraw, Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris, Noah Wylie, Wendie Malick, Betty White and Valerie Bertinelli -- and members of Congress like Rep. Raul Grijalva.
The events of this week, coupled with NBC News' recent exclusive report, mark a real turning point in our fight to reform this program.
But, as Tom Gorey's quote indicates, the fight is far from over even though the battle lines are drawn. Science, members of Congress and the American public are on on the side of reform. Special interests want to keep the program as it is.
The only question...where does Secretary Jewell stand? Add your name to the letter and let's find out.